Taiwan 'White Terror' brought back to life for gamers

February 21, 2017 by Michelle Yun
'Detention' horror video game was created by Taiwanese developers and takes place during the crackdown on opponents by the ruling nationalist Kuomintang 70 years ago

As the 70th anniversary of a bloody political purge in Taiwan looms, a new horror video game set during the island's "White Terror" is winning rave reviews.

"Detention" was created by Taiwanese developers and takes place during the crackdown on opponents by the ruling nationalist Kuomintang, when the now democratic island was still under martial law.

The nightmarish 2-D game starts with the disappearance of a teacher, with players acting as two trying to solve the mystery.

One scene shows a classmate hanging dead in the school auditorium. Another sees one of the students consoling her sobbing mother before entering a room with portraits of faces bleeding from their eyes.

Gamers have praised it as an "emotional and educational" experience—it made the top 10 of popular gaming distribution platform Steam after its release last month, and is still on the bestseller list.

Developer Yao Shuen-ting said his team tried to capture the pervasive fear of a time when family members and colleagues were going missing.

"We want to let players experience the atmosphere through the characters' perspective... to come to the conclusion themselves that this was a time when you could die from reading a book," said Yao.

Next Tuesday is the 70th anniversary of the start of a brutal massacre of anti-government protesters by KMT troops on February 28, 1947, under nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.

Yao Shuen-ting, a co-founder of game developer Red Candle Games, displays a key figure of the video game 'Detention' during an interview in Taipei

It was a precursor to decades of purges under Chiang and his son between 1949 and 1987, when was finally lifted.

Victims were often teachers and doctors who were angry with government corruption and turned to underground organisations that created and distributed reading materials seen as subversive.

"Detention" developers say they spoke with their own elderly relatives to help recreate the era, finding out finer details such as the kinds of outfits school officials would have worn.

Yao describes it as almost like a film as players delve into the main characters' inner minds and eventually discover a disturbing truth.

'Emotional experience'

The game is aimed at 15-year-old players or older and is downloaded from Steam for Tw$299 ($9.67).

It has gained an international following, with half its users from outside Taiwan, including China, Europe, and the US.

"I don't think I've ever seen such a deep and sensitive view into the dark corners of our inner lives and society," one overseas gamer wrote in a review on Steam.

Taiwanese horror video game 'Detention' is aimed at 15-year-old players or older and is downloaded from Steam for Tw$299 ($9.67)
"This was a very educational and , and it just makes me grateful that I did not experience a time and place so terrifying just to express free speech," another overseas reviewer said.

"Detention" has also hit a nerve at home, where reviewers reflected on Taiwan's hard-won freedoms and said they hoped such purges would never be repeated.

"Today's democracy and freedom is built upon bodies whose blood flowed as rivers," one local player wrote.

Yao said he was surprised how much the crackdown resonated with players, and counted its popularity overseas as a marker of its success.

"They don't have the historical context so they will be more objective," he said, adding that some Taiwanese customs featured in the game might throw foreign users.

"They might not know what they're doing. But they can experience the atmosphere of the time," says Yao.

"They might even cry."

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